Russell’s parents were always hospitable and loved being grandparents too. We regularly had Sunday lunch with my mother and stepfather and then came over here in the afternoon for tea. Ma was a noted cake maker and home-made scones and cakes were always on the tea table. Tea, served in a silver pot, was a loose-leaf mixture of English Breakfast and Earl Grey; Ma mixed a caddyful at a time.
Weeza and Al came over to visit for days at a time, too. Pa and Ma had a maid, Hilda, who had been Sprig’s nursemaid from the age of one and she just stayed on. She had her own bed-sitting room and used the back stairs to get to it, and a downstairs bathroom was built beyond the kitchen for her. When she reached retirement age, Russell bought her a cottage in Yagnub where she lived rent- and council tax- free for the rest of her life, though she still chose to carry on working here for years, right up until Pa and Ma died. The children adored her and she led them astray as much as possible – I think Hilda deserves a post to herself sooner or later. Anyway, my older two children spent a lot of time here when they were little and have very fond memories of this house and garden.
I was fond of it too, but I had reservations – I’ve always previously lived in light, airy houses with high ceilings and big windows. Apart from my parents’ flat at the hotel they owned when I was born, I lived in Edwardian houses and this Tudor building, with relatively small windows and low ceilings felt claustrophobic after a couple of hours. For several years after we were married, I wouldn’t have contemplated living here, but it gradually grew on me. All the same, I loved the former Rectory where we lived and everyone knew that.
In the summer of 1983, Pa became ill with a respiratory problem. It seemed to start with the flowering of the oilseed rape in the next field, which affected him badly. It’s said that the pollen molecules are too large to cause hay fever but I know a lot of people who are sensitive to this pungent plant and he certainly was. He was ill through the summer and died in the local cottage hospital in August. I don’t know what the diagnosed cause of death was, though, I never thought to ask and it hardly matters for the story.
Weeza and Al were 9 and 7 at the time and we were about to go on holiday to Jersey – fortunately, not for a couple of weeks, though we felt bad about leaving Ma only a few days after the funeral. When we came home again we visited frequently, Russell popping over a couple of times during the week and all of us coming at the weekend. She coped bravely and I never saw her cry or heard her complain, though she became quite thin.
At that time, Russell and I used to meet for lunch at the Yacht Club a couple of times a week. I’d walk the couple of miles down the seafront and he just had to walk across the road from his office at his saleroom – he was a full-time auctioneer and estate agent at that time. And the week after we got home, Russell visited her in the morning, met me at lunchtime and had news for me.